A Resurrection of SE Metro Park by Texas Conservation Corps

And on the Sixteenth of April, in the Southeast Metropolitan Park of Austin, Texas, the most glorious check steps to ever grace the park were completed. Not since fifteen years prior have such beautiful check steps ever been installed in the Southeast Metro. The duo of Green and Purple Crew proved once again that the immense trail building power of the field teams is truly unmatched within the Texas Conservation Corps. With great utility and style, these fine steps not only allow walkers to traverse the scenic ravine and bridge, but also provide great aesthetic enjoyment of their own to all those who are lucky enough to use them in this, the Badlands of Eastern Travis County.

Breaking only for a volunteer day in Bastrop State Park and the weekend, the Purple Crew initially set to their task on the Ninth of April. Accompanied by consultants from the Green Crew, the Purple Crew was undeterred by a 3 mile hike to the work-site and the immense tasks at-hand, even while maintaining their now world renowned Physical Training routine throughout the project. The results speak for themselves; whether it’s carrying saws, mattocks, drills, or elderly from burning buildings, the Purple Crew Workout Plan (PCWP) prepares you for it all. Based on revolutionary one-minute length sessions and cutting edge exercises, you are sure to complete your rugged task in record time and with a sculpted posterior. The workout plan is also guaranteed to return lost loved ones, even if they’ve been assigned to Top Secret Timber Framing Operations (TSTFO). The workout not only strengthens the body, but the emotional bonds between those in the stretch circle as well as their minds, thanks to the “daily question” feature. Through mind meld, the PCWP were able to return PFC Glen and Colonel Kurtz safely from the humidity of Louisiana and without any strange manners of speaking. Now complete, the Purple Crew can operate at maximum strength and engage our Megazord to conquer any task, be it in Colorado, Florida, Oklahoma or Texas. You are encouraged to order your VHS copies of the routine today for four easy payments of 29.99. Dial now at 1-800-888-TXCC.

Benjamin Schell, Field Crew Member

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Mayors & County Day of Recognition for National Service – Featuring Texas Conservation Corps

On April 7th, 2015, Texas Conservation Corps joined fellow American YouthWorks AmeriCorps members and other Austin-area AmeriCorps programs at City Hall to celebrate Mayor’s Day of Service. Thanks to the support of the OneStar Foundation, one of our Emergency Response Team members was asked to speak. Below are his speech notes on service and Texas Conservation Corps as well as a video that was featured during the event and a photo of all American YouthWorks AmeriCorps participants with Mayor Steve Adler. 

As introduced, my name is Chris Gomon. I am one of the crew leaders at Texas Conservation Corps, an AmeriCorps program at American YouthWorks which is an organization dedicated to giving individuals job training through youth and young adult service opportunities. We also have a YouthBuild AmeriCorps program at American YouthWorks, Casa Verde Builders, and they build green houses in East Austin.

I am a co-leader of one of the Emergency Response Teams. As a grantee of the One Star Foundation, ERTs are on-call waiting to assist in the response to incidents not only in Texas but all over the country.

I was asked today to give remarks on why I serve. Admittedly I started doing National Service for somewhat selfish reasons. I just wanted to gain hands-on experience and certifications so I could land a “real” job – whatever that means. What I failed to realize then, and what I really appreciate now, is what National Service gives us as participants. It gives us purpose. Not that we are meaningless slackers before we join programs like these, but now we have a chance to be a part of something that is engaging and dynamic and different and challenging.

I think people, no matter where they are in their lives, need to be challenged. This position at TxCC is especially challenging. Over the course of the year we work in some of the harshest conditions for very long hours. It’s Texas, so yeah it’s hot. It’s work that grinds you down and wears you out and you really do get to earn your sleep. But because it demands so much of you, inevitably you find the very best in you. You become connected to your work in a very personal way. I think that’s true for all AmeriCorps programs. You become the most active person in your life. That is something you might not get out of a lot of other jobs. It is this purpose that I get from National Service that answers why I have and will continue to serve. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.

Chris Gomon, Emergency Response Team Crew Leader

Mayor’s Day Of Recognition Video

Texas Conservation Corps Returns to Lake Amistad

AmeriCorps members from the Texas Conservation Corps program frequently help the National Park Service and their Exotic Plant Management Team in their quest to keep invasive species from dominating the landscape in our National Parks.  Here is the story from our recent trip to Lake Amistad.

The sky was dark and the wind howled as we, the red crew, loaded into our trusty AmeriCorps van and returned to the West Texas desert at Lake Amistad National Recreation Area, near Del Rio, Texas.  Here we would once again take up arms against a formidable enemy, giant cane (Arundo donax). Arundo, much like its look-a-like bamboo, is a tall rigid cane that is native to the Mediterranean, eastern and southeastern Asia. The plant was originally brought to the United States in the early 1800s for roofing material and as a form of erosion control but quickly spread across the south via ornamental yard plantings and the natural seed dispersal that followed. Arundo is also one of the fastest growing terrestrial plants in the world, able to grow nearly four inches a day under ideal conditions, which enables it to out shade native plant species. And unfortunately arundo does not serve as a food source or good nesting habitat for wildlife, thus resulting in vast swaths of low quality habitat in this desert landscape.

Our team’s weapons of choice for this epic battle were chainsaws, loppers, and brush cutters, which allowed us to cut the fiendish grass as low to the ground as possible. Our project partner, Pat Wharton of the National Park Service’s Exotic Plant Management Team (EPMT), will follow up to remove the young arundo shoots which will reappear in the coming months. According to Pat, that 1-2 punch has been the winning combination that has resulted in about an 80% reduction of arundo in the Rio Grande canyons were we were working.

Having (for the moment) defeated one invasive species, the fight quickly moved to the eradication of two other highly invasive species, tree tobacco (Nicotiana glauca) and salt cedar (Tamarix spp.). Our new target site was along the banks of Lake Amistad, a reservoir that is split between the United States and Mexico; the name symbolizing friendship between our two countries.  Moving ever forward, we set to work chain sawing and lopping the out-of-place plants. Within several days we had cleared the entire area of tree tobacco and all of the larger salt cedar trees. As the brief moment of Texas summer returned to winter, our AmeriCorps team left the park ready for its own return to its original state, as high quality Rio Grande floodplain habitat on the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert.

 

Will Miedema, AmeriCorps Emergency Response Team Crew Member, Texas Conservation Corps

Texas Conservation Corps Takes Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge ( or: Yaupon, More Like no-pon!)

Day 1: Lean Mean Green Bean Machine (LMGBM) arrives at Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge, armed with chainsaws, backpack sprayers, loppers, brushcutters, and the drive to save the critically endangered Attwater Prairie Chicken. The habitat of these unique birds is also endangered. Once stretching from Louisiana to Texas, the coastal prairie habitat is now reduced to less than 1% of its original grandeur.

 

Day 2: Waking up before the sunrise, LMGBM prepares for their first full day of work on the prairie. After receiving some lore about the prairie chicken and the reserve itself, we venture out onto the prairie with brushcutters in hand to begin removing the native but invasive shrubby species that enable birds of prey to have an unnatural advantage against the prairie chicken.

 

Day 3: LMGBM brings out the big guns (chainsaws) to more efficiently combat the invasive yaupon and baccharis species. After an extremely productive chainsaw morning, we break for a well deserved lunch and get back to the daily grind of saving critically endangered species.

 

Day 4: Prairie chickens sited! On a foggy, ominous morning, our spirits were low but expectations of prairie chicken sightings were high. These majestic creatures are keen on practicing their mating dance, called “booming,” on days such as this because they are less easily spotted by predators. With orange air sacs inflated, ear feathers up, feet stomping, and mating calls echoing across the prairie, about ten males and females dramatically emerged from the fog to display their dance for us.

 

Day 5: After the prairie chicken siting, we have renewed enthusiasm and vigor for destroying yaupon. LMGBM also start showing signs of reverting to a more primitive state. We have forgotten the sounds of the city and hustle and bustle of metropolitan life. We have only one thing on our minds: saving the Attwater Prairie Chicken.

 

Day 6: LMGBM makes a brief return to civilization (and Mexican food). While fueling up on chips and salsa, tacos, and enchiladas, we hear rumors of the infamous Prairie Joe, a local enigma who lives off the unforgiving prairie. Many and more mysteries are solved.

 

Day 7: Our chainsaw and herbicide application skills have dramatically improved. This stuff is now second nature. We realize we were born to do this work.

 

Day 8: Compared to P-Day (Prairie arrival day), we are seeing the fruits of our labor across many acres of prairie. Where there was once yaupon dotting the horizon, there is now only fair and native grasses blowing gently in the breeze, providing an ideal home for the prairie chicken.

 

Day 9: Evidence of Prairie Joe found. Perhaps we are not alone.

 

Day 10: Last full day of work. We feast on a delicious potluck prepared by our gracious hosts at the reserve. With very full bellies, we return triumphantly to our last afternoon of destruction. Dedication blazes in the eyes of every LMGBM member as we work late to leave our final positive impact on the land. Yaupon is no match for the LMBGM.

 

Day 11: We return to TxCC (Snake Farm), victorious and closer than ever as a crew/family. We have conquered 370 acres of prairie, enabling the majestic Attwater Prairie Chicken to live and boom on in their restored natural habitat for years to come. You can put that on yo’ toast.

Ariana Lisefski, Field Crew Member

The Season Begins at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

The Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge is a beautiful expanse of land in Central Texas, home to several species of endangered birds. It features rolling hills of Ashe-juniper and oaks with shallow water lolling in rocky river beds that cut through the landscape. Our newly formed crew of seven was anxious to find out what our first project would be out in this densely forested wilderness. Upon meeting our project partner, Eric, however, we were to discover that our new project would not actually be on the National Wildlife Refuge, but rather on adjacent private land. Eric, an imposingly built “C” sawyer with a demeanor akin to Owen Wilson, explained that our first project would be “fire-wising” a new property. Outside of the refuge, the rolling hills continued with the addition of a speckling of spacious mansions popping up right out of the cedar. On one of these hills, right up the road from the housing complex graciously bestowed with the name “The Bluffs at the Hollows”, we pulled up in our duct-tape decorated van and trailer to begin our first project.

Fire-wising a property or tract of land is performed in order to prevent future fires from becoming the kind of raging hell beasts that burn hot and fast and scorch both homes and the environment. It often utilizes controlled burning to mimic the kind of fires that might naturally occur and prevent extreme damages from future fires started of natural causes or otherwise. Our task didn’t involve flame-throwers, but rather chainsaws as we set out to clear the undergrowth and limbs of Ashe-juniper and oak that fell below the six-foot mark. This was to prevent the fire from having a sort of ladder by which to engulf the entire tree and spread to other trees nearby. While at first it felt strange to many of us to be working for an individual person, the benefit of fire-wising this one property would not solely fall to this one man, but rather the entire community and surrounding lands. It would serve as an example to the neighborhood of a way to prevent all-encompassing wild fires from occurring, presented in a bird-friendly and aesthetically appealing package.

Our second day once again took us to a dense patch of trees, this time almost exclusively shin oak, and into the hands of a wildlife biologist and his black-capped vireo. The black-capped vireo, currently living it up in Mexico, is quite the prima donna for such a small, endangered bird. The shin oak in which it nests must be thick, but not too thick. It must include plenty of open areas within the woods, called open-oak shinneries. The shin oak woodlands must additionally be of a certain height and age. Our job that day, trading in one particular boss for another, would be to prepare señor black-cap’s house for his return from Mexico. More exactly, on that overcast Tuesday, we would be creating these open-oak shinneries that the black-capped vireo loves so much. These would-be quiet, peaceful havens for the little bird were anything but quiet in their creation. Our chainsaws thrummed steadily as we cut our way through shin-oak growing so thickly together that it was nearly impossible to clear out what was already cut. Instead, we tromped across the fallen timber in our pursuit to hack and slash down yet more in a circle that was to measure approximately 22 meters in diameter. The thought does cross the mind as one hacks through endlessly dense gnarled shin-oak that maybe a little more flexibility on the vireo’s part might have kept him off of the endangered species list in the first place. After an area had been chain-sawed into submission, we came in with a blue-tinted “poison” to cover the open wounds of our target trees before they had a chance to heal.

In a week that was anything but straightforward, we discovered that conservation work isn’t the pretty tree-hugging picture many might imagine it to be, rather it sometimes more accurately resembles an episode of Dexter. On this, our first hitch, we learned a lot about the idiosyncrasies of our chainsaws, about the natural world, and about each other.  I, for one, am excited to see what other challenges to previously formed thoughts the rest of the year will bring.

Laurie Cale, ERT Crew Member

Texas Conservation Corps in the Panhandle

On September 12th, 2014 AmeriCorps members all across the nation celebrated the 20th anniversary of the creation of AmeriCorps. The date was marked with events from the White House to community food banks. In Texas, events were held at UT Austin and smaller venues across the state. The Texas Conservation Corps’ Emergency Response “Blue” Crew had the pleasure to attend one of the local events held in Amarillo, TX.

The Amarillo ISD AmeriCorps Program reached out and invited the crew to swear in at the High Plains Food Bank. The crew gladly accepted this invitation. The Amarillo ISD AmeriCorps Program engages regional high school and college students as tutors. The tutors travel to regional elementary schools where they assist students with reading comprehension and other subjects. The program is proud to be one of 2 AmeriCorps programs in the state that engages high school students in this capacity.

The TXCC “Blue” Crew has spent several weeks working at the nearby Lake Meredith National Recreation Area. We have been building a new multi-use hiking, biking, and horse trail for visitors to the area. The trail system will be the first of its kind in the region and will provide over 20 miles of trail when it is completed. We worked on several projects at Lake Meredith over the course of our season, and weather is always a challenge. The day of the Anniversary was no different – we had cold wind and rain and so welcomed the chance to spend the day inside!

The event in Amarillo involved harvesting food from the community garden, live feeds of the state and national events, and a group swearing in ceremony. During the swearing in ceremony members recited the AmeriCorps pledge and vowed to get things done for America! The Members from the 2 programs had the opportunity to learn about each other and share stories from their term of service. Because we are a unique program in our state, and we stay on the road all the time, we don’t often get a chance to spend time with other AmeriCorps programs. The event was a fun change of pace for the crew and several Amarillo members expressed interest in serving with Texas Conservation Corps in the future.

Ricky Reedy, Emergency Response Team Crew Leader

 

Previous Reflections at Lake Meredith:

I just finished my first spike to Lake Meredith, which is a series of 4 trips. We have the unique opportunity to work with a professional National Park Service trail crew. I learned a copious amount about several key elements of trail construction including rock building, switchback construction and carving trail out of new hillside. The coolest part of all is getting to learn how to blow up boulders with dynamite charges! Needless to say, I am looking forward to seeing what the next 3 hitches bring.

Taylor Wolter, Emergency Response Team Crew Member

 

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Texas Conservation Corps at Goose Island

Goose Island is a relatively small State Park near the town of Rockport, TX. The park is thickly vegetated – filled with Coastal Live Oaks, Youpon Holly, Mustang Grape, and Greenbriar. Like most upland coastal habitat in South Texas the area is an overgrown remnant of coastal savannah. When fire was common there, it was able to keep the vegetation down and maintain the cover of grasses and interspersed Oak trees. After western civilization moved in, we suppressed the fire (due to the ostensible danger of letting fires run rampant in a developed land) and the understory vegetation was able to crowd out the grasses. Left unchecked, the vines are able to creep up and eventually bring down even the oldest of Oak trees. There are still many left, but even those are slowly succumbing to the sheer weight of vegetation ever present upon them

Arborculture aside the thick mass of vegetation also presents a tremendous fuel load. Replicating the mistakes of western civilization across North America, in suppressing the naturally occurring fire cycle we increased the damage potential of a catastrophic fire exponentially. While not a new concept, it is a notion that has moved to the forefront of every resource and park manager’s mind after the colossal Bastrop County Complex Fire in 2011 which destroyed over 1600 homes and much of Bastrop State Park itself. It is not economically feasible to fix the vegetation problem entirely in Goose Island, as the fuel load is so great that it would be much too dangerous to burn and would have to be removed mechanically. It is, however, feasible to mitigate the spread of such a fire by implementing fuel breaks to slow the rate of spread. Which is where we come in.

Texas Conservation Corps was contracted to construct several thousand feet of fire break around the park, protecting campsites and structures. The breaks were 30 feet wide, and herbicide was applied to slow the eventual regrowth of the understory. Oak trees were also left as an implementation of a shaded fuel break. The going was slow, mechanically removing thick vegetation is a difficult process. But after 2 11 day spikes trips and over 160 hours of work the crew was able to construct fireline around most of the park’s “Lantana Loop” (the most thickly vegetated camping area) as well as both park restrooms and some of the park residence. With the work completed the crew and park were both able to rest easier knowing that the work they had done might save lives some day.

Colin Foltz, Emergency Response Team Crew Leader